Mailbag: Opening Plays
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Mailbag: Opening Plays, Recruiting Grades and More

August 29, 2018

It's an all-football mailbag this week and we would expect nothing less. The Huskers open their 2018 season at home against Akron on Saturday, so the Hail Varsity staff — Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson — is here to answer plenty of questions about the game and upcoming season.

Last season the Cornhuskers scored 39 touchdowns and UCF scored 84. Assuming an improvement in the rushing yards per game and completion percentage this season, how many touchdowns will the Huskers score? (@Corn_Huskers)

DP: This is one of those “every time we see a new stat last season looks worse” moments. I’ll set my over/under at 55. Fifty to 55 feels like the range.

BV: Last week I said 32.5 points per game for Nebraska’s offense. That’s going to require somewhere around 52 touchdowns over 13 games.

ES: I’ll take somewhere between 62 and 65.

GS: I will say 61.

JP: Assuming we’re playing this Price is Right-style, I’ll one-up Brandon and go with 53.

Is the first offensive play of 2018 a pass or run? Bonus question: how many plays until the defense causes a turnover? (@Sal_Vasta3)

DP: Both. You’ll get an RPO on the first play. Unfortunately, Frost didn’t want to draw up his first play call for us on Monday so I have to guess what it will be (jerk), but whatever it is, if it works and Nebraska gets even 20 yards, Memorial Stadium will register on the Richter Scale. If it’s worth anything, the first play of the spring game was a split backfield, motion right, go route down the sideline. I have to think the defense grabs a turnover by halftime against Akron. If it wasn’t the first game for the staff, my answer would be different, but there’s an emotional element at play there.

BV: Run. Gotta be run. And I hope it’s a counter. And I’m guessing the defense will force a turnover within the first 30 plays.

GS: I’m going with inside zone handoff to Greg Bell for 4 yards. Let’s say within the first 20 plays a turnover will be caused.

JP: Pick-six. Just kidding. Give me a short completion to Jack Stoll. Give the freshman something easy to complete to get him going. I’ll be conservative and say the first takeaway comes in the third quarter. Might take some action for the defensive mindset they’re trying to instill to take hold and produce results.

Give us a high-level scouting report on Andrew Bunch. And maybe a snippet on the new 3rd-stringer Matt Masker. (@md_schmidt)

DP: Bunch was a 3-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school. He can play. He’s athletic enough to run the option (which he did in the spring game) and make plays when the pocket breaks down. As quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said Wednesday, “He’s got a good gun, he’s athletic, he’s intelligent and I suspect he’s going to get better.” I went back through and watched his spring game performance and I didn’t see a lot of panic in the pocket, he went through reads and checked down as needed. Obviously, that’s not truly “live” and things will change when he has to face other defenses but he’s more than capable running this kind of spread offense. It’s like what he ran before.

JP: As a little more background info on Bunch, he played nine games for Scottsdale Community College two years ago and completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 147.9 yards per game with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He had one game where he completed over 60 percent of his passes and cracked 200 yards in a game three times with a high of 274. Including sacks, he had 77 carries for 14 yards and three touchdowns and he lost seven fumbles.

As for Masker, here’s what Troy Walters said about him today: “He’s done a good job. He can throw the ball; any quarterback we have we want to be able to throw the ball. We also want them to beat the defense with their legs. He can do it all. As a freshman, we’re throwing a lot at him but he’s done a good job of grasping it. When he gets his reps, he goes in and makes the most of them.”

Masker had some good D-II offers he turned down to walk on at Nebraska coming out of Kearney Catholic, where he broke some of Scott Frost’s high school passing records.

DP: Well… I think it's obvious which of the two backups Jacob prefers. 

Do you think that maybe Gebbia's decision was actually his or was he being influenced by an outside factor (i.e. an old teammate or parent)? (@OJay10)

ES: I believe the decision was ultimately his at the end of the day, but I’m sure he had an outside influence in making it. Whether that be a parent or a friend, I’m sure he went somewhere seeking advice. Now, we may criticize what some feel is “bad” advice if that is what happened, but it was ultimately Gebbia’s decision to make. He is young, but he’s capable to sorting through those decisions on his own. So I have no doubt Gebbia made what he believes to be the best decision for himself. Did someone weigh in on it? I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s still Gebbia’s decision to make at the end of the day.

GS: I agree with a lot of what Erin said. The decision was ultimately his but it would be very surprising if a parent or former coach didn’t also get in his ear. The situation was also bad for Gebbia and only going to get worse so I could see where someone else would have a strong leg to stand on about swaying him.

JP: Mario Verduzco’s words certainly seem to point in a dramatic shift in mindset from Saturday to Sunday, so perhaps that was part of it.

Which player will this staff discover as a diamond in the rough that the previous staff did not? Much like the Shaquem Griffin scenario at UCF. Thoughts? (@HarlanCoLaker)

BV: Tyrin Ferguson might be your early leader for that designation. Remember when Ferguson made the uncommon decision to voluntarily redshirt his second year on campus? Well, the strangest thing about that may have been that it didn’t result in any increased playing time the following year (2017). But here he is atop the depth chart going into 2018.

DP: Brandon’s spot on with Ferguson. He seems, to me, the most likely candidate for this.

GS: Tyrin Ferguson is a great choice here.

Now that Frost has reached the point where his UCF stock is officially gone and he has to build his Nebraska stock, what grade would you give the 2019 recruiting class up to this point? (@Stetson_GBR)

DP: I’d grade the class a B now with the potential to climb up to an A. They landed the best player in the state, convincing him to stay home rather than go play at Wisconsin and that’s as big a win as you can get. They landed another dynamic athlete to play quarterback in Luke McCaffrey. They’ve bolstered depth in the running back room with space for more. Maybe the most impressive is they’ve done everything before the season started and without a single official visit. They sold guys on their vision and relationships before even having a single speck of on-field proof to back up what they’re selling. They got guys to buy in without using their biggest trump card: a game day atmosphere inside Memorial Stadium. I think they’ve set themselves up for a second consecutive top-25 class and that would grade out as an A in my book.

GS: I’d go with a solid B right now, too. There aren’t many top targets of theirs that have been missed on so far. What they’ve done so far without official visits to use is very good. Landing Nick Henrich was a significant victory. There are many fans clamoring for more stars attached to players names that will need to make an adjustment on how they view Nebraska recruiting at least in the short term. The staff has a plan and is executing it.

Heard the staff will fight harder to get Noah Vedral eligible this year. How likely is that, and what would need to happen? (@Sal_Vasta3)

ES: I have no idea how likely it is because we’re so close to gameday at this point. What I will share is that I’ve had a conspiracy theory in mind for some time that Vedral actually already has his waiver and Frost has been lying to keep it under wraps. I imagine him coming out on game day, throwing Vedral under center for the first snap of the game and just smiling because he pulled a fast one on us all. I have no reason to believe he actually did that, and I also am not overly confident a waiver is in the cards for Vedral. With that said, I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t push for that harder in hindsight though. If only they had known, right?

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